HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Army must challenge and change the status quo to maintain the competitive edge against future enemies that threaten the security of the United States and democracy worldwide, said the commander of the Army Materiel Command.

With timely and consistent funding from Congress, strong partnerships with industry, cooperation with organizations like the Association of the U.S. Army and steadfast community support, the Army's leaders will aggressively lead efforts to build, strengthen and maintain the nation's military edge in a dynamic and ever-changing world, said Gen. Gus Perna during his keynote address at the AUSA Global Force Symposium and Exposition in Huntsville, Ala., March 27.

"The window to act is now," Perna said. "I strongly believe the next two to three years will set the course for the next two or three decades. And the ultimate consequence of our actions or inactions now will be measured in lives saved or lives lost on the future battlefield."

Following announcements from the Army top leadership on the establishment of Army Futures Command, Perna emphasized the need for modernization of equipment, improvement of acquisition processes, and a focus on training and development of the workforce.

"We must think deeply about how we will fight in the coming decades, and how our enemy will fight. We must think deeply about how we define our requirements, and about how we acquire materiel and then sustain it on the battlefield of the future," he said.

Army Futures Command is about denying current and future adversaries the space and technological advantage, and creating a decisive edge for the U.S. Army, he said.

"Our enemies will not give us the time nor the space to make up for lost ground because we allowed ourselves to be slowed or weakened by our own bureaucracy," said Perna.

With Futures Command in place, Army Materiel Command will continue as the Army's senior logistics and sustainment headquarters responsible for integrating, synchronizing and delivering materiel readiness to the Army.

"Army Materiel Command will stay laser focused on achieving the Secretary of the Army's and the Army Chief of Staff's priorities and meeting the Combatant Commander's requirements," Perna said. "We can accomplish this. We must accept this challenge. We must move forward. Our efforts today will ensure success on the battlefield of the future."

For decades, the Army has had an "overmatch based on a qualitative edge in capabilities," Perna said. "We have earned the respect of our enemies through our presence, our capability and our capacity."

Time and again, the Army has proven its strength on the battlefield.

"Our systems enabled us to defeat enemy formations," he said. "During Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, we cut through the fourth largest army in the world like a hot knife through butter. Our Army's capabilities continue to serve as a critical pillar of our joint force today."

But the Army has not significantly modernized since the 1980s, and its focus of the last 17 years has been on the near-term demands of the counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army has also struggled with constrained or delayed resources, which has slowed, deferred and, in some cases, halted the development of new platforms and capabilities, and the ability to modernize.

Meanwhile, Perna said, near peer competitors have not been so constrained and have been rapidly developing technologies to challenge the Army across all domains. In the Far East, expansive territorial claims combined with aerial defense systems have challenged the U.S. ability to navigate and access the region. In the Middle East, rogue nations pursue ballistic missiles, weapons of mass destruction and cyber weapons, and use conventional missiles and state-sponsored terrorism to destabilize the region. In Europe, security and economic structures are being undermined by competing nations' military modernization, expanding nuclear arsenals and clandestine operations.

"These nations are directly trying to deter our way of life, and they are doing so through expanded modernization," Perna said. "We know our past ways of thinking, organizing and executing are inadequate to keep pace with our potential adversaries.

"Our key competitors are concentrating their efforts today to deny our ability to both project military power and to conduct integrated joint force operations. They are integrating technology and capabilities in military systems at a much faster rate than we are. Right now, we are not postured for success."

The U.S. was in such a position during the early years of World War II. Germany's military victories in Europe were the result of that nation's investment in modern tanks and airplanes, and military tactics. While the armies of the Europe were overmatched and underprepared, the U.S. had only the 18th largest Army in the world equipped with military systems from World War I.

Because of efforts led by President Franklin Roosevelt, former General Motors executive William "Big Bill" Knudsen and the nation's business and manufacturing community, the American industrial engine roared into life to provide the nation's Army and its allies with 86,000 tanks, 2.5 million trucks and half a million jeeps, 286,000 warplanes, 8,800 naval vessels, 5,600 merchant ships, 2.6 million machine guns and 41 billion rounds of ammunition.

Perna said those accomplishments were possible only because leaders challenged and changed the status quo, and got the entire nation moving in the same direction in support of the war effort. They were possible because of relationships built between innovative and productive companies; a trained and incentivized workforce; and the integrity and variety of leaders involved.

"Today, we operate within a bureaucracy of complex rules and regulations," Perna said. "What they did in weeks, now takes us years. What they did in years, now takes us decades. We have to be accountable to break the bureaucracy and change the status quo. Our enemy is not constrained by our bureaucracy or our budget ... We must make decisions today to move forward."